The EU-funded project ISOCIAL (iSocial: Decentralized online social networks) worked to advance understanding of the requirements for developing decentralised OSN platforms. ‘OSN decentralisation can address privacy considerations while assuring service scalability, performance and fault-tolerance in the presence of an expanding base of users and applications,’ notes Associate Professor Girdzijauskas, project coordinator. However, Europe has a shortage of individuals with the skills needed to build decentralised IT platforms and infrastructures able to host innovative OSN services and applications. To this end, the project’s primary goal centred on providing world-class training for the next generation of researchers, computer scientists and web engineers. The ISOCIAL training network funded a total of 16 fellows. Their work covered four interconnected research tracks: decentralised infrastructure; big data analytics and machine learning; security and privacy; and simulation and modelling. Research activities emphasised both theoretical and experimental approaches, methodologies and tools. This supports the development of ‘totally decentralised systems that will pervade our environment and seamlessly integrate with future internet and media services,’ explains Prof. Girdzijauskas. ISOCIAL fellows realised a number of important developments, including designing and building a peer-to-peer architecture for distributed notification systems over decentralised OSNs (DOSNs). They developed novel massively parallel graph-based algorithms that suitably fit DOSNs and eliminate the need for centralised aggregation points. Fellows also worked on the integration of graph analytics with machine learning to analyse autonomous data sources as well as users’ interactions in decentralised settings. Effecting positive change in consumer behaviour Overall, project efforts, activities and research were aligned with ISOCIAL’s vision of supporting future provision of social applications and services in the absence of central management and control. ‘We believe that decentralised OSNs create a potentially transformational change in consumer behaviour and will bring a far-reaching impact on traditional industries of content, media and communications,’ says Prof. Girdzijauskas. ‘Distributed and scalable overlay networking and distributed storage infrastructures that support open social networks and related innovative applications also help to preserve end-user privacy and information ownership.’ The ISOCIAL consortium held a series of events across Europe, including annual research meetings, two intensive postgraduate summer schools, three thematic workshops and one final comprehensive workshop. Partners also offered seven online courses. Two video challenge programmes were organised, open to students of secondary schools and universities – one on ‘Online Social Networks for Health and Well-being’ and the other on ‘Online Social Networks for Social Good’. Research done during the project’s mandate resulted in 10 journal and 37 conference publications. Groundbreaking research on social networks modelling was published in Nature Physics. At project close, three students had successfully defended their PhD theses, with another seven expected to complete their PhDs in 2017. New technologies for networking and infrastructures Some of the technologies developed during ISOCIAL have already been adopted by European SMEs. These include a language technology company driving next-generation text analytics and one providing solutions for media distribution and performance analysis. ISOCIAL’s training network as well as general project work and outcomes have paved the way for improved networking and enhanced infrastructures that support open social networks and applications. As the ‘ISOCIAL Final Report’ notes, ‘it significantly advanced the field of Decentralized Online Social Networks, by making available completely new technologies that will pave the way for more decentralized, sharing-based digital economy of the future.’ Overall, project developments and deliverables will help to preserve end-user privacy and information ownership, as well as pave the way to the emergence of novel decentralised services thereby addressing issues like energy efficiency and data lock-in.
Decentralised online social networks, online social networking, ISOCIAL, IT platforms, machine learning